In the summer of 2003, I started dating someone. I was a senior in high school and he was three years older than me. I immediately fell in love with him — we said the words “I love you” only a few months after we began dating. We formed a special bond; he was my first love. He made me laugh, we dressed alike, we’d go out dancing together. We did everything together. When I was with him, it seemed like I was having new experiences and new feelings every day. But not all of the experiences and feelings were good.
After we had been together for two years, the relationship took a violent turn. He got possessive, controlling and verbally abusive. I would try to break up with him, but he’d beg me to stay with him or threaten to commit suicide. He’d try to hurt himself in ways that I didn’t understand to make me see how hurt he was, or show me how much he cared. At the time, he was the only person who made me feel like he needed me, and I really believed him. In fact, it made me think that this was normal, that this was how all relationships functioned.
Things got worse: name-calling in public, phone calls where he’d lash out at me and physical abuse. Almost every relationship in my life was sabotaged. I couldn’t hang out with other guys. My friends got sick and tired of our relationship. I kept my problems between my family and me and really never talked to anyone about it. It was nobody’s business, and I thought I was the one to blame for his actions.
When I decided to audition for “America’s Next Top Model” in 2006, I looked forward to a new life. However, the cycle of abuse had not yet been broken and I went back to him many times. And he only got more violent, to the point of almost killing me twice. At this point, nobody could help me, because I kept it a secret, and I’d kept him in my life for way too long. I didn’t know how to break free.
I finally snapped when I almost lost my opportunity to be on the show. I couldn’t believe I’d let him get to me like that, so I tried with all my willpower to stop all communication with him. Instead of focusing on my relationship, I turned my attention to my career, worked with mentors, bonded with my family and friends and kept myself occupied and entertained with other hobbies. It was very hard, but with a lot of counseling and support from friends and family, I broke up with him for good.
I’d never viewed him as abusive until I discussed it with my counselor. I’d thought it was love. But I realized that I’d been abused for years. He’d shattered my self-esteem and tried to control my life.
The good news is, it’s never to late to live happily ever after. Six years and a lot of self-exploration later, I’ve built a modeling career for myself and found an amazing boyfriend. My new relationship has taught me how to really work with a partner. I reflect a lot on my attitude and behavior and so does he. I’m currently living a happier and fulfilled life with someone I truly care about.
Over those six years, I’ve also been advocating against domestic violence. It is my mission to help other girls who are being hurt to see that physical and emotional abuse is not OK. I want to help get them out of toxic relationships. Even if I can just help one girl by telling my story, it will all be worth it.
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